A loud thud rocked Huang Ying out of his sleep, his eyes shooting open as he sat up straight. His eyes darted around as he turned his head somewhat groggily, his mind still partly asleep. His thoughts quickly cleared up and he stood up from his seated position, leaving his hut and surveying the surroundings. He could just barely see a few people running back to the village, some of them glancing back while snickering.
Huang Ying turned his head slightly and saw that they had thrown several handfuls of mud at his house, completely staining the front part of the hut and just barely missing the opening. Huang Ying let out a sigh and lowered his head, stepping back into the hut and picking up a small cloth while muttering to himself.
"They're starting now, huh? Honestly took them longer than I expected."
A week had already passed since the awakening ceremony where it was revealed that Huang Ying didn't have a dantian and was thus unable to cultivate, firmly securing him a spot at the very bottom of the hierarchy. He had expected the other children to start bugging him about it on the very same day, but he had actually managed to pass the week in relative peace. Huang Ying started to wipe away the mud, the voice of Li Jun echoing in his mind.
"They're trying to establish dominance over you, you should go after them and beat them up, maybe try to break a few bones or even kill them if you can. Plenty of space here in the forest to bury them."
Huang Ying's hands stopped for a short moment after he heard Li Jun's drastic remark but he quickly continued cleaning again. He was already used to Li Jun having a rather extreme personality concerning some situations, so he simply rolled his eyes while responding.
"'Trying to establish dominance'? What need is there in trying, just the fact that they have a dantian already puts them leagues above me. As for going after them and beating them? First of all, how would I even beat them, they'd just gang up on me and beat me down. But let's say that I do manage to beat them or even kill them, what then? What will I do when their parents come after me for revenge, they'll be able to beat or kill me with ease. No, going after the kids is nothing but a pipe dream."
Huang Ying was, of course, annoyed and even somewhat angry at what they had done, but he didn't let that go to his head, his thoughts remained clear. Li Jun didn't try to convince Huang Ying, he simply sighed out in what sounded like an exasperated manner.
"You really are far too mature for a kid your age."
Huang Ying assumed that Li Jun was feeling pity for him having to grow up so fast, so he simply continued to silently clean his hut, heading over to a nearby stream to clean the cloth several times. Once he finished cleaning the hut, he put away the cloth and stretched his body, his back and neck cracking slightly.
"Alright, let's go earn some money."
San Jongyu was unable to work, so it was up to Huang Ying to earn money for the food they ate. The way he earned this money was very simple, he scoured the two forests around the city for any herbs that might be useable in medicine or as spices, selling them to the merchants in the village. He was rather lucky, one of the books that San Jongyu owned detailed some of the more common herbs and spices that were useable by humans, which was what allowed him to start this little job of his.
He had already been scouring the forests for almost two years, forced to start when he was just five years old, so he knew the forests very well. There luckily weren't many Demonic beasts living in these forests, and the few that lived here made sure to stay deep within the forests, they had never gotten close to the village or the six tall mountains that stood on the other side of the forest.
The village had a few cultivators who could defeat them and the six mountains were the home to a rather large group of bandits that would terrorize the weaker people that tried to use the road away from the village, so the Demonic beasts didn't have any other choice than to hide within the depths of the forest.
Huang Ying continued to search through the forest, picking up the occasional herb that he spotted while stomping down any poisonous plants he found, making sure that they wouldn't continue to grow and spread. When the sun started to crest the horizon, he left the forest and returned to the village, carrying his spoils in a coarse leather pouch,
He had barely managed to walk a few meters down the road when something wet suddenly hit his head and caused it to jerk to the side, a sharp pain coming from the side of his head. He quickly turned his head and saw a few more children running away with a snicker, weaving through the alleys so that they could quickly vanish. He wiped the side of his head with his palm, removing the mud mixed with pebbles that had been thrown at him.
A few drops of red blood were mixed in with the mud, Huang Ying's expression dimming somewhat. At times, children could be crueler than grown-ups. Some of the adults in this village looked at him with scorn or looked down on him, but most would at least hide their emotions when they saw him, none of them acted like the children, having fun tormenting him.
Huang Ying wiped away as much of the mud and blood as he could, continuing to follow the road that led to the merchant district of the village. He could hear a few snickers around him and saw that there were several other children following him, but for now they seemed to be content with just laughing at him and making jokes about him.
He quickly reached the street lined with stalls and signs engraved with the names of various stores, entering a two-story building that had a sign engraved with the words 'Cui's Spices'. He entered a simple room that was mostly empty, only containing a counter on the other side of the room, two shelves filled with dried herbs placed a few steps behind the counter. A middle-aged man with brown hair and black eyes was standing behind the counter, writing down a few things in a small notebook. He raised his head when he noticed someone entering, giving Huang Ying a small nod.
"Did you get a decent haul this time?"
The man, Cui Feng, put away his feather pen and moved through the pages of the notebook until he reached a page close to the end, calmly waiting for Huang Ying to speak. Huang Ying gave a slight nod of his head and walked up to the counter, placing his pouch in front of Cui Feng and allowing him to inspect it. Cui Feng opened the bag and started going through the various herbs, muttering to himself while checking their conditions.
"This one's good, good too, a slight mistake here on the roots, this one is used in medicine and not in cooking, but they're pretty similar so I can see why you would make the mistake, this one's also good, this one's perfect. Alright, you've improved quite a bit in your picking, you've also managed to find quite a bit this time. The total is about seven copper, but since the condition of most of them are this good, plus the fact that you've brought along a medicinal one, I'll give you nine copper instead."
The money used in the village, and most of the normal people on the planet, was very simple. 100 copper made one silver, 100 silver made one gold, 100 gold made one platinum, and 100 platinum made one bright-gold. Cultivators apparently used a different form of currency, but no one in this village had any of it, and Huang Ying hadn't bothered asking Li Jun about it, so he knew nothing of it.
Huang Ying nodded his head after hearing the sum, nine copper would be enough for him to buy food for two days and maybe some cloth he could use to patch up his bedroll or San Jongyu's sheets. Cui Feng wasn't kind to Huang Ying, he had never been. But he also wasn't bad to Huang Ying, he was simply fair, no more no less, it was something that Huang Ying actually quite liked about him.
Cui Feng removed all the herbs from the pouch and put them in a small wooden box he brought up from beneath the counter, loosening the pouch he carried on his waist at the same time. He opened the pouch and took out nine small copper coins engraved with the symbol of the Weeping Cliffs Empire, a stag standing at the edge of a steep cliff. Huang Ying placed the coins into his pouch and tied it up at his waist again, nodding at Cui Feng once more before leaving the shop.
When Huang Ying exited the shop and left the shopping district, he once again felt something wet hit his face, but there was no sharp pain this time. He grit his teeth and wiped the mud off his face, turning his head and sending a glare at the kids that were running away from him, snickering while seemingly enjoying his glare. Huang Ying went to San Jongyu's house and prepared him some food while also cleaning up any waste he had produced during the day, leaving and returning to his hut once he was done.
Like this, Huang Ying's days continued to pass in monotony, he woke up and scavenged for herbs, then went to sell anything he got before paying San Jongyu a visit. He couldn't afford any days off, there was no telling when something would happen to him or if there was a day where he found nothing to sell, so he had to head out every day to search. Days turned to weeks, weeks turned to months, and months turned to years, the monotony piercing into Huang Ying's soul, the only thing changing being the things that the village kids did to establish their dominance.
But after the monotony continued for almost four years, something finally happened to break it up and breathe at least a breeze of fresh air into Huang Ying's life, Xing Tang returned to the village for a visit.